5 Tips for setting expectations around in-house help desks

5 Tips for setting expectations around in-house help desks

November 23, 2010
5 Tips for setting expectations around in-house help desks

When it comes to help desk response times, the rules governing time in relation to distance appear to warp. Many users are willing to swear that the closer the help desk is the slower support appears. In-house help desks thus seem to defy physics…or at least they dash expectations. But is this the reality or just an illusion cast by an aura of frustration?

It turns out that the answer is a twist of reality and illusion.

“Support services may not be well documented or communicated, so they tend to be unclear and/or undefined,” explains Paul Ille, director of Technical Services at Alloy Software, a leading provider of service management, asset management, and network inventory software solutions that help organizations of all sizes automate IT operations. “This causes employees receiving internal support to have no expectations at all – or too many expectations. Either way, it’s impossible to tell what expectations they’ll have.”

When help desk personnel don’t know what user expectations are, they have no clue how to meet them. So, help desk personnel just go about their business according to their own internal schedule. At least two illusions spring from this situation. The user may think the help desk is fast or slow by their own arbitrary measures, while the help desk personnel may think their service is fast or slow according to their own metrics. Time, in this case, has no concrete meaning as it is measured by different and unrelated time zones – that of the user and that at the help desk. This confusion breeds frustration on both sides of the help ticket.

While help desk personnel’s expectations are typically determined by an internal guide on support delivery procedures, they usually can’t fathom where user expectations come from. “The answer that few people want to hear, but is closest to the truth, is that expectations come from only two sources: experiences and requirements,” explains Matthew Monahan, a Cloud Computing and SaaS guru based in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.

“If the user’s regular experience is that it takes two days to resolve a support issue, then it will become their expectation that issues take two days to resolve,” he said. “Conflicts generally arise when a user has an urgent requirement, but they know from experience that their needs will not be met in the time required.”

The solution to this dilemma lies in synchronizing everyone’s watches, so to speak, so that everyone shares the same response time expectations from support services. You can do this in five easy steps:

1.Create a well-defined service level agreement (SLA) or service catalog

. “Agreeing upon and defining your services internally and externally will result in better customer service not only because you will be able to measure how you’re providing services, but because the proper expectations can be set,” Ille says.

2.Develop a helpful culture within your help desk

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If your focus is minimizing costs, then you will deliver sub-par assistance to your users,” Monahan says. “If, however, you focus on giving the users everything they need to get their jobs accomplished, then you win –twice.” Monahan says the first win is that your team will be looking for opportunities to help your users, instead of waiting for them to report problems. The second win is that your user base will come to view the help desk as a place to go for help, instead of the people to yell at when things go wrong.

3. Hire good employees to retain good employees

When your company has a stellar help desk team, it often means your best hires will stick around. The extra payoff for the help desk is that less turn-over in company employees means the need for simple support is vastly reduced as employees improve their skills over time. Reducing or eliminating simple problems means help desk resources can be managed more efficiently to solve more difficult issues.

4. Track issues end-to-end.

Both the user and the help desk staff should be able to tell the status of the issue at a glance. Such transparency reduces frustration and anxiety for all parties and it speeds resolution too. “Any staff member should be able to jump in at any time, knowing exactly where the previous staffer left off as well as the next step that needs to be completed,” Monahan says. “The user should have updates regularly, with the option of tracking their issue on the web or by e-mail.”

5. Remember the help desk is a partner, not the janitor

Help both users and help desk personnel to understand that the help desk does not exist just to mop up mistakes and crashes. Instead, encourage the view that the help desk is a valued partner of every department. What’s the difference in those attitudes, you ask? Think of it this way: where would Star Trek’s Captain Kirk be without Scotty in the engine room? If Kirk needs warp speed to get the job done, Scotty uses his technical prowess to find a way to give it to him and save the day! As a result, Scotty – our help desk analogy– is hailed, and not cursed, by the rest of the crew. “The help desk’s mission is to make each and every user as effective as possible,” Monahan says. “If you remember that your objective is to make everyone’s job a little bit easier, then you will be successful.”

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